By Jake Spring, Valerie Volcovici and Simon Jessop
GLASGOW (Reuters) – A joint China-US statement on climate change marks a political reset to a time when the world’s two biggest carbon emitters reached the brief meeting of thoughts that helped forge the 2015 Paris Agreement.
But that still won’t be enough to avert a deeper climate crisis unless Washington and Beijing can combine words with more action to curb fossil fuels and urge others to do the same during COP26 talks in Glasgow.
“It prevents the worst from happening,” said Li Shuo, senior climate analyst at Greenpeace in Beijing, of a scenario where the United States and China could refuse to cooperate to fight climate change.
“But does it give us the best? The answer is clearly no.”
For many, Wednesday’s announcement recalled China-US cooperation in 2014, when officials under Barack Obama and Xi helped Jingping lay the groundwork for the landmark Paris accord to limit global warming to 1 year later. .5 degrees Celsius.
Climate skeptic Donald Trump’s subsequent move to take the United States out of that accord shattered any vestiges of trust between the two. President Joe Biden’s decision to rejoin Paris was only a first step in restoring that confidence.
Still, that didn’t stop the mud throwing. During the first week of talks in Glasgow, Xi called on the rich countries for not doing enough, and Biden berated the Chinese leader for failing to show up in Scotland.
But as the barbs flew, US climate envoy John Kerry — who served as Obama’s top diplomat — and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenua were finalizing a statement that a Biden government official said took nine months to prepare.
“They knew they wanted to end with a joint statement that would find common ground around ‘ambition’ that could provide useful input to the negotiations in Glasgow,” the official said.
While the ultimate impact on the Glasgow talks is uncertain, the joint statement at least managed to boost hopes for a successful outcome to the UN meeting, which seemed to make little progress in its first week.
“It’s mostly symbolic because what both the US and China said is that they’re not waging a war of words,” said Byford Tsang, climate policy adviser at the E3G think tank.
“Now they can focus on the actual negotiations and give some more room for a more ambitious outcome.”
The statement’s sparse content, the way it was staged, and what it means for those negotiations, still leave many questions unanswered.
Frans Timmermans, head of EU climate policy, welcomed the strong political signals of the statement, but said the EU’s existing plan to reduce net emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, ” goes far beyond what was proposed by Washington and Beijing.
While COP26 viewers said the conference host, Britain, was “aware” of the agreement, the surprising announcement diverted attention from efforts to negotiate a global deal with the nearly 200 countries living in Glasgow. are represented.
Many voices called for a swift return to negotiations between national delegations.
“The success of that collaboration will be judged by the outcome of COP26,” stressed Laurence Tubiana from France, a key architect of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
On the positive side, analysts welcomed the sense of urgency in a statement that spoke of the “critical decade of the 2020s” and acknowledgment that current efforts were not enough.
Others were reassured by pledges from Washington and Beijing to work together to fight illegal deforestation, achieve a phased reduction in coal consumption, and take action this decade to “control and reduce” emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane. .
But the lack of clear deadlines was widely seen as a major weakness.
“If they are serious about avoiding catastrophic consequences, they must also support the improvement of national policies, plans and actions to keep 1.5°C within reach,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, World Climate and Energy Leader at the United Nations. WWF.
Pulgar-Vidal said he especially wanted to see support from the US and China for improving national emissions reduction targets as early as next year.
The statement’s emphasis on rich countries fulfilling a broken promise to deliver $100 billion in climate aid to developing countries as soon as possible has also been met with skepticism.
“The key will be to take real action,” said Brandon Wu, Director of Policy & Campaigns at ActionAid USA, who specifically urges Washington to scale up its climate finance.
Some consequences of the rapprochement between the US and China will only become apparent gradually, such as better alignment of laws and regulations to tackle climate change.
It will be assessed in advance whether it encourages others to increase their commitment in the coming hours of the conversations. Ian Simm, CEO of Impax Asset Management, said there were few signs that a major deal could be possible until the move between the US and China.
“It’s hard to underestimate how important this could be if the US-China announcement overnight leads to an ambitious deal over the weekend,” Simm said.
(Additional reporting by Kate Abnett; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Giles Elgood)